BOOKS: by Michael Daniel (reviewer)News Weekly
BAUDOLINO by Umberto Eco
, July 26, 2003
by Umberto Eco
Available from News Weekly Books for $24.95 plus p&h
Reviewed by Michael DanielIn his latest novel, Umberto Eco, Professor of Semiotics at Bologna University, whose previous works include The Name of the Rose and Foucault's Pendulum, returns to the Middle Ages.Baudolino
begins in 1204 during the sack of Constantinople by the crusaders of the Fourth Crusade.
The protagonist, Baudolino, rescues a Byzantine court official and historian, Niketas, and as he undertakes the hazardous task of protecting him, Baudolino recounts his extraordinary life story.
Born in a small village some decades earlier to peasant parents in northern Italy, Baudolino's life changes when he encounters a German commander in the local woods, who turns out to be Frederick Barbarossa, the Holy Roman Emperor.
Baudolino captures Frederick's attention with his quick mind and soon manifests his other attributes: a flair for languages and an uncanny ability to lie and convince others of the truth of his lies.
The Italian is adopted by Frederick, joining his entourage. Baudolino gathers around him an eclectic group of friends. Together they are involved in a series of amusing, if unscrupulous adventures, from which Baudolino inevitably succeeds in extricating himself.
As the novel progresses the reader becomes less and less certain at what point Baudolino is lying and at what point he is telling the truth, such that by the time he recounts his journey to seek out the fabled kingdom of Prester John, the reader is certain that most of the narrative is make believe with its accounts of mythical creatures and unicorns.Baudolino
is an entertaining novel from one of the great twentieth century authors. Throughout the work Eco demonstrates his extensive knowledge of the fascinating historical background.